Aidan Timmons and Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham team up to help readers make the right choice with their next car. Aidan visits dealers all over the country to produce a monthly guidebook on the values of used cars. He is co-editor of Motor Trade Publishers, who supply a car-valuing service to the motor trade, insurance companies and finance houses. Eddie is author of former best-seller 'Clever Car Buying'.
Why are there so many new cars now with electric hand brakes? I don't see the advantage. They are impossible to use on a hill. What family car would you advise that doesn't have one? I am looking for something around the €20,000 mark. I do 10,000km or so every year, mostly from my home in the country to my nearby town - 12km or so.
Aidan: I am with you on electronic handbrakes. I detest them. However, apart from tidying up the interior layout of a car by removing a big ugly lever between middle of the two front seats, electronic handbrakes actually serve quite a useful and practical function; which ironically is something you picked up on as one of their downfalls - hill starts.
A lot of electronic handbrakes are supplemented with something called "hill assist" or "hill hold control". This is a feature that works by holding the car in place on steep inclines without the need to balance the handbrake, the clutch, and the throttle. You simply keep both hands on the wheel and drive as normal. If the pressure exerted from the throttle is strong enough you can almost feel the connection on the rear brake pads being broken as the calipers (the bit that squeezes the pads against the brakes) automatically release.
Also, because the good old-fashioned cable handbrakes can wear over time, an electronic one will be more consistently firm.
However, you will need to get it checked at service intervals as there are sometimes dedicated brake pads for the handbrake that can wear with regular use.
The Honda Civic has a regular lever hand brake and it would be an ideal family car. It has flexible rear seating and a lovely choice of engines. The 1.4 petrol is probably best suited to your needs. Give the electronic handbrake another go. It opens up a wider choice of cars and it is just a matter of getting used to it. The SEAT Leon is a good buy in this price bracket.
I can happily recommend the Toyota Auris all day long as well. There will be quite a few virtually new ex-rental cars coming back to dealerships in the coming weeks so you can capitalise on your good timing by opting for something called a "hire drive". Ask your local dealers about them and keep and open mind.
Eddie: I couldn't agree more with you on those blinking handbrakes but as Aidan has so cogently outlined they have their uses. More and more cars are getting them now because they save space and let designers fiddle around with stuff.
I wouldn't buy a car with an electronic handbrake if I were you either. Because if you don't feel easy with it, then why should you? But you should still have loads of choice and I think the cars Aidan has mentioned are prime contenders. I would also look at new or nearly-new versions of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai i30, Skoda Octavia, KIA cee'd, Mazda3, Peugeot 308.
I have been trying to get an answer from my local dealer about what my Nissan Micra (2005, 85,000km) is worth but I'm being told it would depend on what I am going to buy. Is this usual? I can supply the name and number of the dealer but I don't want it publicised. He is not a Nissan dealer; that is as much as I'll say. Surely my car is worth a measurable sum no matter what I am trading it against?
Aidan: Cars are funny. Apart from houses, they are generally the only thing for which there are multiple transactions of the same product. However, unlike houses, they are almost certainly depreciative assets and so the values only travel one way.
We don't trade in tea bags, or washing machines, or bed linen but our cars are a different story and depending on what the car is being traded against, the value can indeed change.
The reason has nothing to do with your car. It has got to do with the dealer and their stock. In the same way that a grocery retailer can have a sale on one brand of toilet paper over another, dealers have some products for which they can offer more discount.
So, what is happening here is the dealer is effectively telling you that he/she can give you more money off a particular car because they have better discounts to give on that particular car. If you opt for the one with a bigger discount, then the transaction can be made to look as if you are getting more for your car, which is what most people want.
If dealer X wants to "give you" €2,000 as a trade allowance against a car that costs €10,000, then they effectively want €8,000 cash from you. If dealer Y says; "Oh! your car is worth more than €2,000, I'll you give €3,000 for your car" but wants €11,000 for the car you are looking at buying, then the sum is still €8,000.
I say, forget the amount that you are getting for your car and concentrate on your "cost to change". This is the amount of money you have to hand over to buy your new car. Don't get hung up on the value of your own car in and of itself. It is an asset that you are using to leverage your deal and it can fluctuate in value.
This is normal practice in the motoring world but I appreciate that it is alien in all other aspects of retail buying. Now, go strike the best deal.
Eddie: I can see why you would be so frustrated but nothing is straightforward as Aidan has brilliantly outlined. So here's my advice. Ask the dealer to write down how much he wants along with your car for two or three models you might be interested in. Tell him you want to get an idea of what it is going to cost you to change.
That will do two things (at least): 1. Give you a clear idea of what financial outlay you are facing. 2. Make it much clearer where the best value lies. Let us know how you get on.
I have a 2004 Ford Focus. Some savings I'd invested matured recently. Would you advise I buy a new one (I have €20,000 plus my own to spend) or should I hold on for another year? There are 110,000 kilometres on my car. It has never given trouble but I'm a bit concerned now with the winter coming and as I live in the country and on my own a lot I rely on a car to get me around. I would value your advice.
Aidan: Are you spending all of your savings on a car? It is your money so tell me to mind my own business but I think you can have your cake, eat it, and have it all over again. Would you consider downsizing? If you opt for something like the Hyundai i20, you can buy a 151 registered ex-demonstrator Deluxe model for a little over €16,000 (depending on mileage). It is not a dinky little thing either.
The i20 is spacious and blurs the lines between the supermini and family hatchback segments. A 151 registration will come with the remainder of Hyundai's comprehensive five-year warranty. An ex-demonstrator Ford Fiesta is worth considering, too. Most opt for the 1.25 petrol Zetec version. Give it a drive and see what you think. If you want something bigger then look to the new Focus.
Eddie: I take it that the €20,000 is part of your savings not the entire amount. You don't strike me as someone who would blow them all on a car.
I sense you want to buy something new because you have the money but feel a little worried about doing so?
Here's what I'd suggest: Get your garage to give your Focus a thorough going over. Spend a few euro investigating its state of well-being. If you are going to sell you'll want it in tip-top shape anyway.
If your mechanic finds it in good nick, hold on to it for another year. It is not going to lose much more value and you can make a decision to buy when the money isn't burning a hole in your pocket.
If your mechanic finds it's not in such good nick follow Aidan's suggestions. I would add a few other options: the Skoda Fabia, Volkswagen Polo, Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris or Nissan Note.